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Experience is a degree (I)
Both individually and at the level of society as a whole, experience is an important factor in continuous improvement. Without detracting from the importance of training and many other relevant issues for personal growth, business excellence and the development of society itself; experience is a key factor for progress.
Experience engages knowledge, strengthens skills and allows us to analyse threats and opportunities in perspective. In other words, experience is the true knowledge we acquire through many trials, errors and adjustments, which has the great advantage that it can be built collectively and shared between us.
Although not always strictly so, experience is usually greater the older we become, or the longer the road we have travelled through society. On occasions, though limited to a particular area, it connects to a whole. Hence, beyond the obvious question of social justice and inclusion, we would be foolish to forgo such valuable experience and, what is more, those who have accumulated it.
Leaving aside issues such as solidarity or justice, perhaps more ingrained in the debate about social participation of the elderly; we turn to a more selfish aspect of the matter: the pursuit of maximum individual welfare. In this sense, the objective may be pursued more vigorously by the only means possible: achieving maximum welfare in society as a whole.
Acknowledging the importance of experience inevitably means accepting the participation, knowledge, skills and worldliness of the elderly. Indeed, failure to do so adversely affects not only the greater society, but each of the members who composes it, creating a vicious circle within which we are the losers.
The life experience of the elderly, the judgement and learning accumulated over their lifetime, constitute important assets in the process of long-term decision making. Whilst this may imply important progress in society as a whole, even the private sector can benefit from their participation. Professional experience, coupled with the impetus of the younger generation (who are increasingly more qualified), provides performance that companies are already beginning to take advantage of, fully aware of its value in an ever more competitive world.
Good ideas emerge from the colliding and connecting of different experiences. Hence, beyond the potential to make important decisions with solid foundations, or the ability to enhance business performance, we are talking about even more valuable issues. Indeed, we are referring to specific examples which improve the daily lives of our seniors; but above all, our future together: grandparents who care for grandchildren, volunteers who move forward with the work of NGOs, retirees who advise young entrepreneurs, companions who share their days with fellow elderly people who are alone, experienced professionals who teach their knowledge to students… A broad range of possibilities that should not be squandered, but developed.
Elderly people are often falsely accused of using up the resources generated by other adults, and whilst there will always be those who persist in this absurd injustice, the rest of us should focus on breaking down the myths and ensuring their full welfare, allowing them to feel just as they really are: useful. It is time we offered a more positive vision of those over the age of 65, people with a lifetime of experiences and with all their faculties. For these are people with much to offer and time to do it.